The VA Rating Schedule: When “Average” Doesn’t Fit

The goal of the VA disability rating system is to ensure that veterans are appropriately compensated for disabilities caused by their service to our nation. To do this, the VA has established the schedule of ratings, complete with diagnostic codes meant to represent the average impairment in earning capacity caused by a disability. However, since the schedule of ratings is based on “average” impairment and isn’t tailored to individual cases, there are some cases where the rating schedule that the VA has created doesn’t reflect a veteran’s circumstances. In these cases, a veteran may argue that his or her condition be rated on an extraschedular basis. This means that the VA will look beyond what is on its rating schedule to the individual circumstances of a veteran’s case.

When evaluating a veteran for an extraschedular rating, the VA applies a three element test (the “Thun” test) to determine whether an extraschedular rating is warranted.

  1. In applying the Thun test, the first element that the VA must consider is whether the effects of the veteran’s disability are adequately considered by the rating schedule. Are the veteran’s symptoms listed on the rating table? If so, an extraschedular rating is not warranted, and that is the end of the inquiry. Notably, a recent case from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims states that the availability of a higher rating on the rating schedule is “irrelevant in an extraschedular analysis.” This means you don’t have to be getting the highest possible schedular rating to be considered for an extraschedular rating.
  2. If the VA finds that the veteran’s disability is not adequately considered by the rating schedule, then the VA must determine if the disability causes “other related factors” that functionally interferes with the veteran’s ability to earn a living. These factors typically include frequent periods of hospitalization or interference with the veteran’s employment.
  3. Should the VA determine that these first two elements are satisfied, then it must refer the case to the Under Secretary for Benefits, who will determine if the veteran is eligible for extraschedular compensation.

Extraschedular ratings can be hard to come by, but in some cases they are warranted. This is particularly true where the veteran’s disability causes symptoms or problems that are not frequently associated with the disability. Keep in mind that a similar rule applies to veterans who are seeking a 100% rating based on individual unemployability (TDIU) but do not have a high enough overall rating to be considered for a TDIU.

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